The Wisdom In Waiting

Social Media Can Create Conflict Where None Exists.

Yesterday, Felix Salmon penned a fascinating letter to "all young journalists asking for advice." I'm not a young journalist, but, after reading Salmon's thoughts on compensation a few months ago, I knew it'd be worth my time.  

In hindsight, perhaps Salmon should have avoided the word "advice." It was more of an assessment of journalism in the modern world (i.e. supply and demand, digital web publishing, etc.) than advice. It drew on his personal experience and underscored important lessons. His conclusion best states the real take-away:

If all you care about is the great journalism, then, well, go out and find great stories to tell, and tell those stories in a compelling manner. You’ll always be able to find somewhere to publish them, even if they pay little or nothing for the privilege of doing so. 

On the other hand, if you’re more career-oriented, and want a good chance at a well-paid middle-class lifestyle down the road, I don’t really know what to tell you. Except that the chances of getting there, if you enter the journalism profession today, have probably never been lower.

I was on Twitter at the time and the immediate reaction was resoundingly positive. However, slowly but surely the naysayers emerged and, within a few hours, Vox's Ezra Klein responded with his own, "This is my best advice to young journalists." He admitted at the outset that his piece was responding to Salmon's "very grim advice to aspiring journalists; namely, don't become a journalist." 

Teams quickly started to form, as I noted.

One of the great things about social media, and Twitter in particular, is the ability to respond to events in real time. It's also one of its great flaws. 

While many were busy pitting Felix and Ezra against each other, few paused to consider that the writers' arguments were not incongruous. The former described the landscape. The latter gave tips to be in that landscape. The former offered admonitions to aspiring journalists who want a middle-class lifestyle or better. The latter discouraged same from attending J-school (law school, too). Basically...

It's hardly BoSox v. Yankees, Duke v. North Carolina, or Budweiser v. Craft Brewers. 

And I couldn't help but wonder how these two pieces would be received if they'd been written in a magazine or newspaper, perhaps days or weeks apart. Would we be so eager to split into factions or launch into a snarky tirade of #AdviceToYoungJournalists (which has since turned mostly positive)? 

It reminded me that–when it comes to real, important arguments that do occasionally take place in social media–it's important to take a few extra minutes to digest and process. It can help avoid conflicts that really don't exist. 

There is wisdom in waiting.